A guide to feeding dairy youngstock through the winter

As fallen leaves decay and the temperature plummets, you’ll know that farming gets even tougher.  Before winter hits it pays to plan ahead to take special care of your youngstock’s feeding regime. Looking after your calves is the key to the future of your business. And, much like your adult cows, youngstock benefit from a smooth transition to winter feeding.

Here’s a quick guide.

Sheltering Your Herd

Your cows are coming inside for protection from winter’s glacial chill. That means fresh grazing is no longer an option for most herds. Like most other living creatures, calves don’t like sudden changes to their eating and dietary regimes. To keep youngstock happy, a gradual transition to the winter-feeding plan is the best policy.

From birth, right through to calving, achieving target growth rates is crucial in order to achieve an average age at first calving of 2 years.  This has been demonstrated to be the most efficient and profitable age to calve your heifers for the first time. That’s why it’s so important to select the right forages. Nutrient content needs to be analysed to determine the correct type and quantity of additional feed required for the winter.  Again, it’s imperative for your herd’s growth.


Being accurate with your rations is the secret to a good winter-feeding program. Growth targets must be set for each individual farm.  In this example, heifers of seven months age, weighing approximately 200kg, are aiming for a target average daily growth rate of around 0.8kg per day. The following table shows two different grass silages and the amount and protein content of additional concentrate feed which would be required for each forage.  Clearly, knowing what forages will be fed to youngstock over the winter is imperative, before deciding on an appropriate concentrate to feed alongside the forage.  


Is your feeding regime working?  The only way to check, is to measure and monitor growth. Youngstock require constant re-evaluation. That’s where your scales come in.  Regular monitoring allows you to intervene when things don’t go to plan, before it’s too late.

Young heifers should be aiming to reach their first calving at 90% of mature cow bodyweight.  It’s achievable. But to stay on target for that weight, they’ll need around a 50% mature cow bodyweight by their first birthday. The chart below gives a solid indication of daily growth rates required from birth to maturity.  Mature cow bodyweight is different for each individual herd and is your starting point for calculating targets for your heifers.

A guide to feeding dairy youngstock through the winter 2

Regular weight checks are required, though take care not to upset the herd. Stress stunts growth and is a definite no-no.


The old adage has stood the test of time for a reason. Plan the nutrient content of your youngstock’s winter feed with your nutritionist and consider the ingredients carefully. For a winter that’s happy and healthy for your herd, the time to start planning food intake is now. 


>> A guide to feeding adult dairy cows through winter

Further information can be obtained from your vet or the product SPC or from Zoetis UK Ltd, 5th Floor, 6 St. Andrew Street, London, EC4A 3AE • www.zoetis.co.uk Customer support 0845 300 8034 • CustomerSupportUK@zoetis.com • Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible)• Produced June 2019 • MM-05632